This is the same stage as last year and one of the toughest of the rally, with stones and rocks on the surface and plenty of bedrock above road level. The first 8km climb on open, wide roads through a series of hairpins, linked by rough but fast sections. The descent is on narrow tree-lined roads with many rocks waiting to trap the unwary.
How the action unfolded:
Evgeny Novikov saw his hopes of victory in the Acropolis Rally all but disappear when he dropped more than 4min 30sec after puncturing a tyre early in the rocky Ghymno stage.
The Russian had led after setting a blistering pace since yesterday evening’s start, but after stopping to replace the rear right tyre on his Ford Fiesta RS, he plunged to eighth.
“I think we hit the same stone that Jari-Matti Latvala hit last year. I got a puncture and broke something in the suspension,” he explained.
Novikov’s issues promoted Latvala into the lead. The Finn was fastest by 10.9sec in his Volkswagen Polo R from Dani Sordo, who now lies second, but Latvala was simply relieved to complete the test without a problem.
“It’s very rough,” he told WRC Live. “I can’t push any more than now. I hit a bank and there was a stone there. We didn’t get a puncture but we were very, very lucky.”
Sordo had refused to become embroiled in chasing Novikov, the Spaniard’s Acropolis experience telling him that outright pace rarely pays dividends on such a rough rally.
“I looked at the speed of Evgeny and Jari-Matti and thought something would happen,” said the Citroen DS3 pilot. “It’s very easy to make a mistake here if you are pushing like hell. I didn’t take any risks, there is no reason to do so.”
Thierry Neuville was third fastest in a Fiesta RS and the Belgian climbed to third overall. “I didn’t push too much, I just drove the stage. My brakes overheated but otherwise no problems. It’s getting more rough, and it’s difficult for the car,” he said.
Fourth quickest was Sebastien Ogier, the Polo R driver shrugging off the handicap of being first on the road. The Frenchman admitted the stage was slippery, but dropping 19.3sec to Latvala was still an impressive effort.
Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg completed the top six in the stage, Ostberg fighting oversteer on his Fiesta RS. “Maybe I have a pre-load problem with the rear differential, so I will see if I can fix that,” said the Norwegian.
Andreas Mikkelsen spun and lost 15sec, but the Polo R driver is now up to fourth place.